Best Roots Music Photographs of the Week
It’s been a busy summer, and now it’s time to feature some of the best roots photos of the past couple of weeks by our crack contributors: Peter Dervin, Cynthia Elliott, Kirk Stauffer, Todd Gunsher, and Boom Baker. Also in the mix are two new folks who have not been featured before: Pat Hill and Charlie Bermant.
Leading the way in today’s slideshow is the always effervescent Elizabeth Cook, who begins her shows with a welcoming “Hey, y’all.” Recently, I got to see her twice — once on Mountain Stage, and then, as that set was way too short, I ponied up to Pittsburgh to catch a full set. While Exodus of Venus is an impressive album, I also wanted to see how the new harder-edged band would fare with Cook’s older material. They all did a fine job, and it looked as though the full house that turned out on a Sunday night at Club Cafe on the city’s Southside were all fans. The folks I spoke with also had all the early stuff. There was a long meet-and-greet line at the end. Cook is currently on tour, so catch her if she comes anywhere close. She was also featured in ND’s summer print issue, so pick that up as well.
Hurray for the Riff Raff is taking a short break till October, and even then only a few shows are booked. I know they’ve been working on a followup to 2014’s Small Town Heroes, which was in many Top 10 lists. But after eight records in seven years, they deserve a creative break. In the meantime, you can download a nice acoustic tour sampler from NoiseTrade.
Dave and Phil Alvin continue to tour as if there’s no tomorrow, concentrating on their last two albums, but it seems they’ll be taking a break mid-September. If you ever get a chance to see these two American originals, do so. For as good as he is, Dave is not mentioned when discussing great guitarists. Don’t be fooled, though — listen and you’ll hear a master.
Speaking of orginals, Peter Wolf is still at it, mixing blues, rock, and R&B in his own unique way. Sometimes fully acoustic as well. I recently heard him do the signature “Love Stinks” with a mandolin.
Pat Hill caught Wynonna at the Red Ants Pants fest and I bet it was a treat. Wynonna is classic country with a killer band. She showed her stuff at DylanFest in May at the Ryman, when she could have come out and done a song and left. But no; she was the only performer who brought her own band. They did a kickass “Million Miles” and then stuck around to do the anthemic “Ring Them Bells” with Emmylou Harris and Ann Wilson. Wynonna is as dynamic as they come.
We also got a couple of great twofers this week: Teresa Williams with Jorma Kaukonen, and Luther Dickinson with the Tedeschi-Trucks Band. These one-of-a-kind photographs are always nice, as they often show a lot of mutual respect among the artists, as well as keeping each on their toes.
I was fortunate to catch Rhiannon Giddens twice this summer: once in a workshop setting and then later on Mountain Stage. As with some years past, she led workshops at the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia. She was the model of patience and grace. Giddens is also working on a new album, one that will be “80 percent originals.” From my listening, it seems the album’s core will be on our nation’s history of slavery and how it has affected us. The thesis is that, until we acknowledge, accept, and fully understand our history, we will not be able to progess. Based on the new songs she shared, I am very excited. Often the best lessons come through the arts, not lectures.
Charlie Bermant caught the way-underrated Guy Davis. In addition to being a great bluesman, Davis is constantly overlooked as doing one of the great Dylan covers. There are a lot of lists out there of best Dylan covers, most notably Paste’s list of 50, and Davis is not mentioned anywhere. He gets inside “What’s a Sweetheart Like You” as if he had written it himself, as if he had lived it. If you don’t believe me, check it out on 2001’s A Nod to Bob. Easily in my top 5.
Bermant also caught Elijah Wald, who is better known as a writer of definitive blues books on Robert Johnson, Josh White, and others. He also wrote about Dave Van Ronk and his treatise on Dylan going electric at Newport, which should end all the myths. I would love to catch him some day. I’ve listened to a couple of podcasts where he is interviewed, and if his music is half as interesting as his enthusiasm for music, he’d be a treat. Plus, I bet he tells great stories.
Kirk Stauffer caught two new up and comers: Logan Brill and Jaime Wyatt. I caught Brill on Mountain Stage last year, and Cosmopolitan listed her as one of eight female country artists you should catch up with. If you like a dose of pop with a traditional Nashville sound, check her out. I would love to catch Wyatt on a double bill with Nikki Lane in Seattle in October. That should be fun, as they both mine some of the same territory.
C. Elliott has been very busy, covering the Indigo Girls and Chris Isaak, as well two bands who are definitely marking their marks right now: Dawes and the Alabama Shakes. The Shakes especially: as if there was any doubt in my mind that Brittany Howard could bring home the bacon, it was put to rest with her vocals on “The Weight” a couple years back at the AMA Awards finale. She shook the rafters. Dawes is working on a new album, and the Girls and Isaak continually demonstrate that they are not resting on their laurels.
Elliott also caught Lucy Wainwright Roche, whom I have seen a bunch of times, solo and with her mother Suzzy. As I write this, she’s appearing at Joe’s Pub in New York as part of a benefit for the recent devastating series of floods in West Virginia. She’s not only a fine songwriter, but what she did with Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” is nothing short of revelatory — she mines the depths, the layers, the ambiguities, and complexities of all three protagonists. She takes a cliche and makes you feel the hope, the dread, the uncertainly, the insecuirty, the possibilities all existing simultaneously. It’s like a Schrodinger’s cat of the heart.
It’s been too long since I saw Robert Randolph play the “sacred steel.” It’s better known in the country music world as the pedal steel guitar, but is called the sacred steel in many black Pentecostal churches. In Randolph’s hands, his instrument takes the music to the stratosphere.
Last and certainly not least is Dori Freeman. She was featured in ND’s spring print issue and her debut album is one of the best of the year. As with Margo Price, Brandy Clark, and a couple of others, the most exciting new artists happening in “country” music these days harken back to the last great era of that genre, the 1970s … albeit heavily filtered through the intervening 40-plus years. Along with Price, Freeman will be appearing at the AMA in Nashville next month. If you’re headed that way, you do not want to miss her. Or Price.